The NFL scouting combine will begin Feb. 20 in Indianapolis to kick off preparations for the 2013 season.
After a legal tampering period from March 9-11 — which comes after the illegal tampering period during the combine — free agency will commence at 4 p.m. on March 12, and then attention will focus on the draft, April 25-27 in New York.
But before we get to all that, let’s continue our look back at the Patriots’ 2012 season to prepare for the future.
These are the individual player grades for all 53 players that finished on the roster, along with the 11 who finished on injured reserve.
The grades reflect the player’s performance relative to other NFL players at the position — and there is no curve for age or experience. Roughly, “A” players are the upper echelon at their position, “B’s” are for players who could start elsewhere in the league, “C’s” are for average players, and “D’s” are for those who performed below average.
Tom Brady: Still as good as ever, even if critics want to unfairly heap recent playoff losses on his shoulders. Brady completed 63 percent of his passes and had the lowest interception rate in the league, while keeping the Patriots out of bad plays with his audibles and checks. Grade: A.
Ryan Mallett: Completed just one of four passes (interception was a dropped pass) but appears to have tightened up his motion. Could be trade bait in offseason if price is right. Grade: Incomplete.
Stevan Ridley: Finished seventh in NFL with 1,263 yards and third with 12 touchdowns and 82 rushing first downs. Three fumbles lost and two drops show he has room to grow if he is to reach his potential as an all-around back. Grade: B-plus.
Danny Woodhead: After injury-plagued 2011, team managed him better to last the season. One of those cases where good things almost always happen when he’s involved. Unrestricted free agent in a tough spot with former second-round pick Shane Vereen having a similar skill set. Grade: B.
Shane Vereen: Injuries wiped out his rookie season, and it didn’t look as though he would be able to crack the lineup at the beginning of this season. But he finally got his chance against the Jets Oct. 21 (six carries, 49 yards) and settled into a platoon with Woodhead as the speed backs. Not the gutsiest of inside runners, Vereen is a very good receiver who got tongues wagging on his 33-yard touchdown catch against the Texans. Grade: C-minus.
Brandon Bolden: Went from undrafted free agent to backup to Ridley as inside runner with breakout 137-yard performance on 16 carries vs. Bills. Then was healthy scratch for two games before being suspended for using performance-enhancing substances. Never left the doghouse after that. Grade: D.
Jeff Demps: Knee injury landed him on injured reserve before season. Mistake not using “designated to return” spot on him. Grade: Incomplete.
Spencer Larsen: Knee injury put fullback on injured reserve in August. Grade: Incomplete.
Wes Welker: Finished second in NFL with 118 catches and eighth with 1,354 yards. Even returned 25 punts and three kickoffs. Durability is second to none as he played every game for second straight season. Still elite in one-on-one coverage. Has improved downfield receiving, though it’s not his forte. Led team with 13 drops, including a few in key spots. Key unrestricted free agent. Grade: A-minus.
Brandon Lloyd: Patriots finally got some decent production at their X position with Lloyd’s 74 catches for 911 yards and four touchdowns, but he gave next to nothing (2.6-yard average) after the catch; Deion Branch had 3.0. Had trouble getting on same page with Brady throughout season. Patriots have to decide on $3 million option bonus. Grade: C-plus.
Matthew Slater: Didn’t have a catch in 42 snaps, but continued to be terrific as the special teams captain. Pro Bowl selection for second straight year. He is unblockable on kick coverage. Grade: B.
Deion Branch: Only signed for 10 regular-season games and had 16 catches. Smarts and hands are still top-notch, but he can’t get open. Will be 34 in July. Unrestricted free agent whose career will last as long as Patriots want to have him around. Grade: D.
Kamar Aiken: Signed for final two games and played three snaps. Grade: Incomplete.
Julian Edelman: Looked to finally have a real role but injuries limited him to 7½ games — and availability counts. Great with the ball in his hands. Had five touchdowns, two on returns. Unrestricted free agent. Grade: C.
Donté Stallworth: Showed his speed on 63-yard touchdown against Texans before ankle injury. Team could have used him vs. Ravens. Grade: Incomplete.
Rob Gronkowski: Coming off ankle surgery and likely associated hip woes, Gronkowski was not as good this season as in 2011 before basically missing the final seven games with a broken forearm. With five drops and 7.5 run stuffs allowed, was on pace to exceed his 2011 stats (eight and nine, respectively). Still, compared with the rest, he’s tremendous. Grade: A-minus.
Aaron Hernandez: Missed time for the third straight season to start his career. His 10 drops on 106 targets (9.4 percent) led to a worse drop rate than Welker (6 percent). Still a below-average blocker. Time for him to be the star the Patriots are paying him to be. Grade: B-minus.
Michael Hoomanawanui: Solid, smart player with good hands who must get stronger in the offseason. When you add the percentage of run stuffs and pass pressures allowed, he was the worst blocker on the team. A restricted free agent. Grade: D-minus.
Daniel Fells: One of the season’s great mysteries is why Fells, who is a better blocker and allowed zero pass pressures, had to sit behind Hoomanawanui. Grade: D-plus.
Brad Herman: Undrafted free agent hurt early in training camp. Grade: Incomplete.
Ryan Wendell: At 6 feet 2 inches and 300 pounds, he doesn’t overwhelm people physically, but over the course of the season, Wendell really played well — and in a tough division for centers. Allowed stuffed runs on just 1.8 percent of his snaps and pass pressures on 2.8 percent. Combined 4.6 percent led all offensive linemen. Grade: A-minus.
Logan Mankins: Wasn’t quite right physically until the end of the season, but put up impressive numbers: half-sack allowed, 10 hurries, 7.5 knockdowns, 18 total pressures, 9 stuffed runs. Compare with 2011: 3.5 sacks, 13.5 hurries, 7 knockdowns, 24 total pressures, 16 stuffed runs. He’s almost back. Grade: A-minus.
Sebastian Vollmer: Through Week 12, he was probably the best right tackle in the game. But he slumped badly toward the end of the season, giving up 5.5 of his 6.5 sacks and 23 of his 37 pressures in the final seven games. Big decision on a key unrestricted free agent. Grade: B-plus.
Nate Solder: Was a better run blocker than Matt Light, and in the ballpark in terms of pressure-allowed percentage (4.1 for Light, 5.6 for Solder). As a first-year starter at left tackle, that’s darn good. The team has its franchise left tackle, there’s no question about it. Grade: B-plus.
Dan Connolly: Continues to deal with injuries, but when he’s right, the right guard is tough and efficient inside. Second only to Mankins in pressure-allowed percentage (3.3). Led team with 11.5 stuffed runs allowed but percentage (2.6) was fine. Grade: B-minus.
Donald Thomas: Had his moments in seven starts between left and right guard. Allowed pressure and stuffed runs on 3.5 percent of his snaps each. Borderline starter headed into unrestricted free agency. Grade: C-plus.
Marcus Cannon: Started one game, and his performance in the run (2.3 percent) vs. the pass (6.5 percent) indicates that his future might be at guard and not tackle. Grade: D-plus.
Nick McDonald: Started one game and his value is that he can play center, guard, or tackle in a pinch. A better run blocker than pass blocker. Grade: D.
Markus Zusevics: Undrafted free agent right tackle was active for one game but didn’t play. Grade: Incomplete.
Jamey Richard: Veteran suffered a concussion in camp and landed on injured reserve. Grade: Incomplete.
Kyle Hix: Two years, two August placements on injured reserve. Grade: Incomplete.
Vince Wilfork: Led the team, by far, with 21.5 stuffed runs and was third with 26.5 quarterback pressures (which kind of illustrates a team pressure problem). There isn’t anything he can’t do up front. Grade: A.
Rob Ninkovich: Led the team in sacks (my numbers are different from officials numbers, as I give credit to the players who actually cause the sack) with 10.5, tied for first with five forced fumbles, was second with 39.5 total pressures and fifth in stuffed runs (11). Model of consistency, and his positional versatility is a big asset. Grade: B-plus.
Chandler Jones: Through 10 games, he was headed toward being the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year with 6 sacks, 15 hurries, 12 knockdowns (33 total pressures), and 7 stuffed runs. In final eight games (two missed) after hurting his ankle, Jones had zero sacks, 4.5 hurries, 4.5 knockdowns (9 total pressures), and 1.3 stuffs. He still wound up leading the team with 42 pressures. Grade: B.
Kyle Love: Was fourth on the team with 12 run stuffs, and posted a respectable 11 total quarterback pressures. Very solid player who continues to excel at disengaging from blocks. Grade: B-minus.
Trevor Scott: Figured the free agent pickup would show better against the run, but his one stuffed run showed he’s only a pass rusher in this system. His 6.6 pressure percentage was third among linemen. Grade: C-minus.
Brandon Deaderick: Had maturity issues his first two seasons but improved his overall play in 2012, though his pressure and stuff numbers were down slightly. Plays undisciplined at times but forced two fumbles. Grade: C-minus.
Justin Francis: Undrafted product from Rutgers showed pass-rush ability, with 9.5 of his 11.5 total pressures coming in the final six games. The Ravens playoff loss shows he needs an offseason at least to be an every-down player. Grade: D-plus.
Jermaine Cunningham: Made a few splash plays as an interior sub package pass rusher, but his 12 total pressures on 335 pass rushes (according to profootballfocus.com) left him with a pressure percentage of 3.6 — the same as Love and worse than Wilfork. That’s not good enough. Didn’t do much after PED suspension. Grade: D.
Jake Bequette: Third-round pick was active for just three games. Either he was hurt, or the personnel department misjudged his value. Grade: F.
Jerod Mayo: With a line that stayed healthy for the most part, Mayo was able to play more at weak-side linebacker and improved all his impact numbers (9 total pressures to 14.5; 9 stuffs to 14.5). Led the team with 184 total tackles, 115 solo tackles, and was third with four forced fumbles. Arguably his best season. Grade: A.
Brandon Spikes: Like Jones, he was putting up a tremendous season (10 pressures, 10.5 stuffed runs) until injuries after the Colts game stopped him. He had just one pressure and 6.5 stuffs after that. Accumulates nagging injuries as season goes along. Shame because his 19.3 pressure percentage (11 pressures on 57 pass rushes) led all defenders. Grade: B-minus.
Dont’a Hightower: Started season with great outings against Titans and Cardinals but then played up and down before finding more consistency near the end. Showed much promise by leading linebackers with 4 sacks and 16 pressures. Needs to improve vs. the run. Grade: B-minus.
Mike Rivera: Played just 10 games but impressed with 12 special teams tackles (third on the team). Grade: D-plus.
Niko Koutouvides: Posted eight special teams tackles. Unrestricted free agent. Grade: D-plus.
Tracy White: Shows a lot of physicality when called upon on defense, which was seldom. Started to show a decline on special teams (four tackles after 14 in 2011). An unrestricted free agent. Grade: D.
Dane Fletcher: An emerging depth player who needed ACL surgery in the preseason. Already re-signed for 2013. Grade: Incomplete.
Devin McCourty: Was much improved as a cornerback the first six games (later played two more there) and steadied the middle of the field when he was moved to free safety. Led the team with 13 passes defensed and 5 interceptions, and led all defensive backs with 89 tackles. It’s time for the team to decide where his best position is, because McCourty is ready to take the next step. Grade: B-plus.
Alfonzo Dennard: Seventh-round pick went from having a redshirt season to being the team’s best cover corner. Had seven passes defensed and three interceptions (one returned for a touchdown). Obviously took coaching well down the stretch. Lack of height will be an issue, but has great vertical jump. Grade: B-minus.
Kyle Arrington: Underappreciated player who was reliable and did whatever the team asked of him, even if that meant playing out of his best position (slot corner). Second on team with 11 passes defensed. Played terrific in AFC Championship game. Went from seven interceptions to zero this season. Unrestricted free agent. Grade: B-minus.
Aqib Talib: Acquired for a fourth-round pick for the final nine games of the season. Of the possible 781 snaps he could have played, Talib was on the field for 39 percent of them. Undeniable athletic skills and talent, but continued to be an inconsistent player. Unrestricted free agent with history of off-field problems and injuries. Grade: C-plus.
Steve Gregory: Was signed to be a jack-of-all-trades but wound up a starting safety after Patrick Chung proved ineffective. Solid and smart player who had to play out of position at strong safety but had three interceptions and two forced fumbles. Would like to see his versatility used more. Grade: C-plus.
Tavon Wilson: A surprise second-round pick, Wilson filled the role of tight end specialist in the dime package and did well when left in that role. Needs a lot of development and experience if he’s going to be a starting safety. Grade: C.
Marquice Cole: Was signed in the offseason to be a special teamer and spot cornerback, and filled those roles admirably. A solid all-around player who had an impossible matchup vs. Anquan Boldin in AFC Championship game after Talib went out. Grade: C-minus.
Nate Ebner: A draft project after being mostly a rugby player at Ohio State, he developed into a very good special teams weapon who finished second with 17 tackles. Needs a lot of work at safety. Grade: C-minus.
Derrick Martin: Solid depth player in the secondary and on special teams. Grade: D.
Patrick Chung: A physical safety on a team desperately in need of one, Chung was effectively benched for the season despite a few spot starts. Looked slower and appeared to guess more than ever. Injury-plagued the past three seasons, this one was likely his last in New England. Grade: D-minus.
Malcolm Williams: A 2011 seventh-round pick, Williams has been released and signed several times as a special teams player. Grade: D-minus.
Ras-I Dowling: The 33d overall pick in the 2011 draft was supposed to be an immediate starter as a tall and physical man cover corner. He has shown flashes of that talent, but his career totals are nine games, two starts, and two injured reserve appearances. Grade: F.
Will Allen: Veteran free agent signing went on injured reserve before the season. Grade: Incomplete.
Josh Barrett: Has played five games the past three seasons and is coming back from microfracture knee surgery as a free agent. Grade: Incomplete.
Zoltan Mesko: Appeared set to make a run at a Pro Bowl spot but both his average (43.1) and net average (37.9) decreased from a season ago. Those numbers are more indicative of punting for a standout offense than a poor job on his part, but Mesko could stand to be more consistent, especially in pressure situations. Grade: B.
Danny Aiken: After an inconsistent training camp and preseason, the long snapper had a very good season. Grade: B.
Stephen Gostkowski: His 82.9 field goal percentage was his lowest in a full season since his rookie year of 2006 (76.9 percent) and he missed a game-winning attempt from 42 yards against the Cardinals. At one point, he made one of four kicks in Weeks 11-14. Posted a career-high 46.8 touchback percentage on kickoffs. Grade: C-plus.Greg A. Bedard can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @gregabedard.